Q&A with Playwright Mary E. Weems, Ph.D.

Hey Siri by Mary E. Weems, Ph.D., runs July 21 – 23 at the BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Directed by Michael Oatman, this new drama features Michelle Broome, Chelsea Anderson, Lynna Metrisin, & Darryl Tatum.

Thanks to Mary for this preview!

What is Hey Siri about, and how did you get the idea for it?

What happens when an Iraq War veteran, an agoraphobic, and a former doll hoarder turn to their iPhones for salvation?

Actor Ebani Edwards was in my basement rehearsing for At Last. I asked her to look up short clips of Josephine Baker dancing. I heard Ebani say “Hey Siri?” and at the time I’d never heard it. I was immediately inspired to write a play I ‘thought’ would be about how dysfunctional technology is, but that’s not what came.

What kind of experience is the audience in for with this play?

Audiences should expect to experience the lives of Lucky, Mack, and Elizabeth in an up-close-and-personal way which will, hopefully, allow them to empathize with each character.

As a playwright, were there any models for Hey Siri, or did you see yourself as working in any other particular genre or tradition?

Mack’s character is a composite of two Vietnam veterans I know, coupled with my imagination.

What are your overall goals or objectives as a playwright, and how does this play fit into them or get you closer to where you’re trying to go?

My number one objective as a playwright is to write about the human condition through the lens of race, gender, sexual orientation, and class.

What do you think is the value of new plays like this for the local community? What do you think a locally written play like Hey Siri can convey to patrons who are visiting the city for the BorderLight Festival?

New plays written by local playwrights are an integral part of all theatre. BorderLight Festival patrons will have a chance to be entertained while getting a sense of what Cleveland playwrights think are important issues to address in the current social/political climate.

Hey Siri was originally intended to be produced in March 2020, but was canceled just before it opened due to the Covid pandemic. How does it feel to finally be getting this play up on its feet?

It feels wonderful. I’m especially grateful to Playwrights Local for its ‘third’ year of financial support, without which this production would not be possible and my friend, brother and director Michael Oatman, cast and crew for their efforts in bringing my work to life for the stage. Hey Siri also had a staged reading at the Greg Reese Performing Arts Center at the East Cleveland Public Library on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Michael Oatman directed. Featuring Darryl Tatum (who returns for this production) as Mack, India Nicole Burton as Lucky and Linda Ryan as Elizabeth.

What other plays and projects do you have going on, and what’s next for you?

I’m seeking production possibilities for Crack the Door for Some Air, which had a successful livestreamed, virtual reading thanks to the Dobama Theater last year. The play was sparked by the police shooting of a Black woman through her window, while she was in her home playing video games with her nephew. I just had workshop performances of my new short play Let the Good Times. It was part of the Dobama Theatre’s GYM Shorts Festival on June 16, 17, 18th 2022.

My third book in the last two years, Performative Intergenerational Dialogues of a Black Quartet, will be out this July. I’m the second author with my colleague Bryant Keith Alexander and two of our mentees Dominique C. Hill and Durell Callier. It continues the work of Ben Caldwell, Ron Milner, Ed Bullins and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in their seminal work A Black Quartet, which is considered the start of the theatre arm of the Black Arts Movement when it was published in 1970.

I’m currently seeking publication possibilities for a new chapbook titled Fall and Response, and working on a new book of poems with Anthony “Boogieman” Rucker.